Lonely Planet India by Lonely Planet, Michael Benanav, and Abigail Blasi - Read Online
Lonely Planet India
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About

Summary

Lonely Planet India is your passport to the most relevant, up-to-date advice on what to see and skip, and what hidden discoveries await you. Immerse yourself in the sacred city of Varanasi, wonder at the Taj Mahal in Agra, or cruise the tropical waterways of Kerala; all with your trusted travel companion. Get to the heart of India and begin your journey now!

Inside Lonely Planet's India Travel Guide:

Colour maps and images throughout Highlights and itineraries help you tailor your trip to your personal needs and interests Insider tips to save time and money and get around like a local, avoiding crowds and trouble spots Essential info at your fingertips - hours of operation, phone numbers, websites, transit tips, prices Honest reviews for all budgets - eating, sleeping, sight-seeing, going out, shopping, hidden gems that most guidebooks miss Cultural insights give you a richer, more rewarding travel experience - yoga, spas, volunteering, festivals, religion, history, cuisine, art, literature, architecture, environment, wildlife, trekking Over 220 maps Covers Delhi, Rajasthan, Kashmir, Ladakh, Agra, Varanasi, Himachal Pradesh, Bihar, Rishikesh, West Bengal, Darjeeling, Goa, Bengaluru (Bangalore), Mumbai (Bombay), Tamil Nadu, Chennai, Hyderabad, Kerala, Andaman Islands and more

eBook Features: (Best viewed on tablet devices and smartphones)

Downloadable PDF and offline maps prevent roaming and data charges Effortlessly navigate and jump between maps and reviews Add notes to personalise your guidebook experience Seamlessly flip between pages Bookmarks and speedy search capabilities get you to key pages in a flash Embedded links to recommendations' websites Zoom-in maps and images Inbuilt dictionary for quick referencing

The Perfect Choice: Lonely Planet India, our most comprehensive guide to India, is perfect for both exploring top sights and taking roads less travelled.

Looking for a guide focused on South India and Kerala, Goa and Mumbai or Rajasthan, Delhi & Agra? Check out Lonely Planet's South India & Kerala guide,Goa & Mumbai guide, and Rajasthan, Delhi & Agra guide for a comprehensive look at all these destinations have to offer; or Best of India, a photo-rich guide to the country's most popular attractions.

Authors: Written and researched by Lonely Planet.

About Lonely Planet: Lonely Planet is a leading travel media company and the world's number one travel guidebook brand, providing both inspiring and trustworthy information for every kind of traveller since 1973. Over the past four decades, we've printed over 145 million guidebooks and phrasebooks for 120 languages, and grown a dedicated, passionate global community of travellers. You'll also find our content online, and in mobile apps, video, 14 languages, 12 international magazines, armchair and lifestyle books, ebooks, and more, enabling you to explore every day. Lonely Planet enables the curious to experience the world fully and to truly get to the heart of the places they find themselves, near or far from home.

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ISBN: 9781787011991
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India

Contents

Plan Your Trip

Welcome to India

India's Top 17

Need to Know

If You Like

Month by Month

Itineraries

Booking Trains

Trekking

Yoga, Spas & Spiritual Pursuits

Volunteering

Travel with Children

Regions at a Glance

On The Road

Delhi

Sights

Activities

Tours

Courses

Sleeping

Eating

Drinking & Nightlife

Entertainment

Shopping

Gurgaon (Gurugram)

Sights

Sleeping

Eating

Drinking

Entertainment

Shopping

Rajasthan

Rajasthan Highlights

Eastern Rajasthan

Jaipur

Walking Tour: Pink City

Around Jaipur

Bharatpur & Keoladeo National Park

Alwar

Sariska Tiger Reserve & National Park

Ajmer

Pushkar

Ranthambhore National Park

Udaipur & Southern Rajasthan

Bundi

Kota

Chittorgarh (Chittor)

Udaipur

Around Udaipur

Northern Rajasthan (Shekhawati)

Mt Abu

Nawalgarh

Jhunjhunu

Fatehpur

Mandawa

Jaisalmer, Jodhpur & Western Rajasthan

Jodhpur

Around Jodhpur

Jaisalmer

Around Jaisalmer

Bikaner

Around Bikaner

Punjab & Haryana

Punjab & Haryana Highlights

Chandigarh

Around Chandigarh

Pinjore Gardens

Morni Hills

Punjab

Anandpur Sahib

Amritsar

Patiala

Sirhind

India-Pakistan Border At Attari-Wagah

Pathankot

Bathinda

Faridkot

Kapurthala

Haryana

Kurukshetra (Thanesar)

Sultanpur Bird Sanctuary

Surajkund

Jammu & Kashmir (including Ladakh)

Jammu & Kashmir (including Ladakh) Highlights

Ladakh

Leh

Around Leh Southeast

Markha Valley & Rumbak

Nubra Valley

Pangong Tso

Tso Moriri Loop

Leh to Kargil

Kargil & Zanskar

Kargil

Suru Valley

Zanskar

The Kashmir Valley

Srinagar

Pahalgam & Aru

Gulmarg

Naranag & Lake Gangabal

Sonamarg

Jammu & Southern Kashmir

Jammu

Around Jammu

Himachal Pradesh

Himachal Pradesh Highlights

Southern Himachal Pradesh

Shimla

Naldehra & Around

Kinnaur

Rampur

Sarahan

Sangla Valley

Rekong Peo

Kalpa

Rekong Peo to Sumdo

Central Himachal Pradesh

Mandi

Rewalsar Lake

Tirthan & Banjar Valleys

Bhuntar

Parvati Valley

Kullu

Naggar

Manali

Around Manali

Western Himachal Pradesh

Dharamsala

Mcleod Ganj

Around McLeod Ganj

Dharamsala to Mandi

Chamba Valley

Lahaul & Spiti

Lahaul

Spiti

Agra & the Taj Mahal

Agra

Sights

Activities

Tours

Sleeping

Eating

Drinking & Nightlife

Shopping

Around Agra

Uttar Pradesh

Uttar Pradesh Highlights

Varanasi

Sarnath

Gorakhpur

Kushinagar

Sunauli & the Nepal Border

Lucknow

Ayodhya & Around

Allahabad

Western Uttar Pradesh

Mathura

Vrindavan

Uttarakhand

Uttarakhand Highlights

Rishikesh

Haridwar

Rajaji Tiger Reserve

Dehra Dun

Mussoorie

The Char Dham

Uttarkashi

Joshimath

Around Joshimath

Valley of Flowers & Hem Kund

Corbett Tiger Reserve

Nainital

Almora

Around Almora

Kausani

Bageshwar

Pithoragarh

Munsyari

Kolkata (Calcutta)

Sights

Activities

Courses

Tours

Sleeping

Eating

Drinking & Nightlife

Entertainment

Shopping

West Bengal & Darjeeling

Sunderbans Tiger Reserve

Mandarmani

Up the Hooghly

Bishnupur

Shantiniketan

Nabadwip & Mayapur

Murshidabad & Berhampore

Siliguri & New Jalpaiguri

Jaldhapara Wildlife Sanctuary

Kurseong

Darjeeling

Singalila Ridge Trek

Kalimpong

Bihar & Jharkhand

Patna

Vaishali

Kesariya

Motihari

Raxaul

Gaya

Bodhgaya

Rajgir

Nalanda

Ranchi

Betla (Palamau) National Park

Sikkim

Gangtok

Rumtek

Tsomgo (Changu) Lake

Gangtok to Mangan

Far North Sikkim

Namchi

Ravangla (Rabongla)

Temi Tea Garden

Pelling

Khecheopalri Lake

Yuksom

Dzongri & Goecha La The Khangchendzonga Trek

Tashiding

Kuluk & Rinchenpong

Northeast States

Northeast States Highlights

Assam

Guwahati

Around Guwahati

Tezpur

Nameri National Park

Kaziranga National Park

Jorhat

Majuli Island

Sivasagar

Dibrugarh

Manas National Park

Arunachal Pradesh

Itanagar

Central Arunachal Pradesh

Western Arunachal Pradesh

Nagaland

Dimapur

Kohima

Northern Nagaland

Manipur

Imphal

Mizoram

Aizawl

Tripura

Agartala

Udaipur

Neermahal & Melaghar

Meghalaya

Shillong

Garo & Jaintia Hills

Cherrapunjee (Sohra)

Odisha

Odisha Highlights

Bhubaneswar

Around Bhubaneswar

Southeastern Odisha

Puri

Konark

Chilika Lake

Gopalpur-on-Sea

Southwestern Odisha

Koraput

Around Koraput

Rayagada

Northern & Northeastern Odisha

Pushpagiri Ruins

Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary

Madhya Pradesh & Chhattisgarh

Gwalior

Orchha

Khajuraho

Panna Tiger Reserve

Bhopal

Sanchi

Around Sanchi

Pachmarhi

Indore

Ujjain

Mandu

Maheshwar

Omkareshwar

Jabalpur

Kanha Tiger Reserve

Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve

Pench Tiger Reserve

Raipur

Sirpur & Around

Jagdalpur

Around Jagdalpur

Gujarat

Ahmedabad (Amdavad)

Around Ahmedabad

Vadodara (Baroda)

Around Vadodara

Bhavnagar

Blackbuck National Park

Palitana

Diu

Somnath

Gir National Park & Wildlife Sanctuary

Junagadh

Gondal

Jamnagar

Around Jamnagar

Bhuj

Around Bhuj

Mandvi

Little Rann of Kachchh

Mumbai (Bombay)

Sights

Activities

Courses

Tours

Sleeping

Eating

Drinking & Nightlife

Entertainment

Shopping

Maharashtra

Nasik

Around Nasik

Aurangabad

Around Aurangabad

Ellora

Ajanta

Jalgaon

Nagpur

Around Nagpur

Konkan Coast

Matheran

Lonavla

Karla & Bhaja Caves

Pune

Around Pune

Kolhapur

Goa

Panaji (Panjim)

Old Goa

Mapusa

Candolim

Calangute & Baga

Anjuna

Assagao

Vagator & Chapora

Morjim

Aswem

Mandrem

Arambol (Harmal)

Margao

Chandor

Colva

Benaulim

Agonda

Palolem

Patnem

Karnataka & Bengaluru

Bengaluru (Bangalore)

Around Bengaluru

Mysuru (Mysore)

Around Mysuru

Bandipur National Park

Nagarhole National Park

Kodagu (Coorg) Region

Hassan

Belur (Beluru)

Halebid

Sravanabelagola

Mangaluru (Mangalore)

Dharmasthala

Udupi

Malpe

Jog Falls

Gokarna

Hampi

Around Hampi

Hosapete (Hospet)

Hubballi (Hubli)

Badami

Around Badami

Vijapura (Bijapur)

Bidar

Telangana & Andhra Pradesh

Telangana & Andhra Pradesh Highlights

Hyderabad

Telangana

Bhongir

Warangal

Palampet

Andhra Pradesh

Vijayawada

Around Vijayawada

Nagarjunakonda

Visakhapatnam

Around Visakhapatnam

Tirumala & Tirupati

Around Tirumala & Tirupati

Kerala

Kerala Highlights

Southern Kerala

Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum)

Around Trivandrum

Kovalam

Varkala

Kollam (Quilon)

Around Kollam

Alappuzha (Alleppey)

Around Alleppey

Kottayam

Around Kottayam

The Western Ghats

Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary

Munnar

Around Munnar

Central Kerala

Kochi (Cochin)

Around Kochi

Thrissur (Trichur)

Around Thrissur

Northern Kerala

Kozhikode (Calicut)

Wayanad Region

Kannur & Around

Bekal & Around

Lakshadweep

Tamil Nadu & Chennai

Tamil Nadu & Chennai Highlights

Chennai (Madras)

Northern Tamil Nadu

South of Chennai

Mamallapuram (Mahabalipuram)

Kanchipuram

Vellore

Tiruvannamalai

Gingee (Senji)

Puducherry (Pondicherry)

Auroville

Central Tamil Nadu

Chidambaram

Kumbakonam

Thanjavur (Tanjore)

Trichy (Tiruchirappalli)

Southern Tamil Nadu

Chettinadu

Madurai

Rameswaram

Kanyakumari (Cape Comorin)

The Western Ghats

Kodaikanal (Kodai)

Around Kodaikanal

Coimbatore

Around Coimbatore

Coonoor

Kotagiri

Ooty (Udhagamandalam)

Mudumalai Tiger Reserve

Andaman Islands

Port Blair

Around Port Blair

Havelock Island

Neil Island

Middle & North Andaman

Little Andaman

Understand

Understand India

India Today

History

The Way of Life

Spiritual India

Delicious India

The Great Indian Bazaar

The Arts

Sacred Architecture

India's Wildlife & Parks

The Landscape

Survive

Scams

Contaminated Food & Drink

Credit-Card Con

Druggings

Gem Scams

Overpricing

Photography

Theft

Touts & Commission Agents

Transport Scams

Women & Solo Travellers

Women Travellers

Solo Travellers

Directory AZ

Accommodation

Customs Regulations

Electricity

Embassies & Consulates

Insurance

Internet Access

Language Courses

Legal Matters

LGBTI Travellers

Maps

Money

Opening Hours

Post

Public Holidays

Safe Travel

Telephone

Time

Toilets

Tourist Information

Travellers with Disabilities

Visas

Transport

Getting There & Away

Getting Around

Health

Before You Go

In India

Language

Behind the Scenes

Our Writers

Welcome to India

A land of remarkable diversity – from ancient traditions and artistic heritage to magnificent landscapes and culinary creations – India will ignite your curiosity, shake your senses and warm your soul.

Natural Splendour

From the towering icy peaks of the northern mountains to the sun-washed beaches of the southern coast, India's dramatic terrain is breathtaking. Along with abundant natural beauties, exquisite temples rise majestically out of pancake-flat deserts and crumbling fortresses peer over plunging ravines. Aficionados of the great outdoors can scout for big jungle cats on wildlife safaris, paddle in the shimmering waters of beautiful beaches, take blood-pumping treks high in the Himalaya, or simply inhale pine-scented air on a meditative forest walk.

Glorious Gastronomy

Brace yourself – you’re about to take one of the wildest culinary trips of your travelling life. Here you'll fry, simmer, sizzle, knead, roast and flip across a deliciously diverse repertoire of dishes. The hungry traveller can look forward to a tasty smorgasbord of regionally distinct recipes, all with their own traditional preparation techniques and presentation styles – from the competing flavours of masterfully marinated meats and thalis to the simple splendour of vegetarian curries and deep-sea delights.

Explore the Unexpected

India tosses up the unexpected. This can be challenging, particularly for the first-time visitor: the poverty is confronting, Indian bureaucracy can be exasperating and the crush of humanity may turn the simplest task into a frazzling epic. Even veteran travellers find their nerves frayed at some point; yet this is all part of the India ride. With an ability to inspire, frustrate, thrill and confound all at once, adopting a 'go with the flow' attitude is wise if you wish to retain your sanity. Love it or loathe it – and most travellers see-saw between the two – to embrace India's unpredictability is to embrace its soul.

Sacred Celebrations

Spirituality is the common characteristic painted across the vast and varied canvas that is contemporary India. The multitude of sacred sites and rituals are testament to the country's long, colourful, and sometimes tumultuous, religious history. And then there are its festivals! India hosts some of the world's most divine devotional celebrations – from formidable city parades celebrating auspicious events on the religious calendar to simple village harvest fairs that pay homage to a locally worshipped deity.

Taj Mahal | DOUG PEARSON / GETTY IMAGES ©

Why I Love India

By Sarina Singh, Writer

The moment I start to think I'm right on the precipice of unravelling one of India's deep mysteries, it has an uncanny way of reminding me that it would take more than just a few lifetimes to do so. Indeed, demystifying India is a perpetual work in progress. And that is precisely what makes the country so deeply alluring for me. The constant exploration. The playful unpredictability. And knowing that, just when it's least expected, you can find yourself up close and personal with moments that have the power to alter the way you view the world and your place in it.

India's Top 17

Taj Mahal

Exquisite tomb that's as much a monument to love as it is to death, the Taj Mahal is arguably the world's most beautiful building, and has been enshrined in the writings of Tagore and Kipling. Built by Emperor Shah Jahan in adoration of his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal, this milky-white marble mausoleum is inlaid with calligraphy, precious and semiprecious stones and intricate floral designs representing eternal paradise, and is the pinnacle of Mughal architecture as well as romance.

Taj Mahal | ELENA-STUDIO / GETTY IMAGES ©

Top Experiences

Otherworldly Hampi

Magnificent, even in ruins, Hampi was once the cosmopolitan Vijayanagar, capital of a powerful Hindu empire, spread across an emerald-green and terracotta-red landscape. Its temples and royal structures combine sublimely with the terrain: giant rocks balance on slender pedestals near an ancient elephant garage; temples tuck into crevices between boulders; and wicker coracles float by rice paddies and bathing buffalo near a gargantuan bathtub for a former queen. As the sunset casts a rosy glow over the dreamy landscape, you might just forget what planet you’re on.

Hampi | PIKOSO.KZ / SHUTTERSTOCK ©

Top Experiences

Ladakh's Moonscapes

As you head north, the air grows cooler and crisper, and you reach quaint, historic hill stations, summer escapes that are ringed by snow-capped peaks. In Ladakh cultural influences came not by coasts but via mountain passes. Tibetan Buddhism thrives, and multilayered monasteries emerge from the forest or steep cliffs as vividly and poetically as the sun rises over Khangchendzonga. Weathered prayer flags flutter in the wind, the soothing sound of monks chanting reverberates in meditation halls, and locals abound with holy offerings, all in the shadow of the mighty Himalaya.

Shanti Stupa | ARMMPHOTO / SHUTTERSTOCK ©

Top Experiences

Caves of Ajanta

They may have been ascetics, but the 2nd-century-BC monks who created the Ajanta caves certainly had an eye for the dramatic. The 30 rock-cut forest grottoes punctuate the side of a horseshoe-shaped cliff, and originally had individual staircases leading down to the river. The architecture and towering stupas made these caves inspiring places to meditate and live, but the real bling came centuries later, in the form of exquisite carvings and paintings depicting the Buddha’s former lives. Renunciation of the worldly life was never so serenely sophisticated.

Caves of Ajanta | SANDEEP SKPHOTOGRAPHYS / GETTY IMAGES ©

Top Experiences

Backwaters of Kerala

It’s like heading into a dream, lazily navigating the tropically radiant backwaters of Kerala: what is probably India's most laid-back state has 900km of interconnected rivers, lakes, canals and lagoons lined with the swaying palms of thick coconut groves and picturesque villages. One of the most popular and scenic ways to peruse these parts is by cruising on a teak-and-palm-thatch houseboat. Drift along the waterways – as the sun sinks behind the trees, while snacking on succulent Keralan seafood, later falling asleep under a twinkling night sky – and forget all about life on land for a while.

Backwaters of Kerala | DIMTRY RUKHLENKO / SHUTTERSTOCK ©

Top Experiences

Architectural Mumbai

In a way that is quintessentially Indian, Mumbai absorbs influences into its midst and inventively makes them its own. The result is a heady architectural melange of buildings with a raft of design influences. The art deco and modern towers lend the city its cool, but it’s the eclectic Victorian-era structures – the neo-Gothic, Indo-Saracenic and other old flourishes – that have significantly added to Mumbai's magic. All those spires, gables, arches and onion domes, set off by lofty palms and leafy banyans, are apt embellishments for this movie star city.

Mumbai | SNEHAL JEEVAN PAILKAR / SHUTTERSTOCK ©

Top Experiences

Safaris

Tiger and leopard spotting in India is very much a matter of luck and timing, but thousands do experience the thrill of seeing a big cat roaming in the wild. Even if you don’t, it's a pleasure to simply wander through one of India’s many beautiful temple- and ruin-dotted forest reserves observing spotted deer, peacocks and langur monkeys, while colourful birds and butterflies flit overhead. Or for a completely different safari experience, hop aboard a 'ship of the desert'. At towns such as Jaisalmer or Bikaner, you can ride on lolloping camelback through desert scrub, stopping at night to camp among a rippled ocean of sand dunes and under a shedload of stars.

Chital at Bandipur National Park | VINOD V CHANDRAN / SHUTTERSTOCK ©

Top Experiences

Cuppa in a Hill Station

India's valleys, deserts and palm-lined beaches are full of wonders, but come summer it can get darn hot down there. India’s erstwhile princes and British colonials used to escape the heat by heading to the cool mountain refuges, such as Darjeeling, and the hill stations still serve up lush forests and crisp mountain air. So, curl up under a blanket with a steaming cup of local tea and watch birds swooping across misty hillsides, broody clouds drifting over bulbous tea trees and village kids running through mountain fog and meadow wildflowers.

Darjeeling | JANE SWEENEY / GETTY IMAGES ©

Top Experiences

Holy Varanasi

Welcome to Varanasi, a city full of life and death, and one of India's most revered sacred cities. Pilgrims flock here to worship, take a holy dip in the Ganges River, or cremate loved ones. Hindus believe the waters of the Ganges cleanse away sins, while dying here is deemed particularly propitious as it offers emancipation from the arduous life-and-death cycle. Varanasi will swiftly sweep you into its dizzying spiritual whirlwind – just take a deep breath and immerse yourself in pondering the meaning of life, death…and beyond.

Dashashwamedh Ghat | SAIKO3P / SHUTTERSTOCK ©

Top Experiences

Goan Beaches

With nodding palms on one side of the sugar-white sands and lapping powder-blue waves on the other, Goa's coastline is lined by beautiful beaches and has an easy-going hedonistic atmosphere that's like nowhere else in India. It's not an undiscovered paradise: this cool coastal strip bustles with fellow travellers, vendors and beach-shack eateries. It's a slice of paradise that appeals to social creatures and fans of creature comforts who like their seafood fresh and their holidays easy.

Palolem Beach | CRAIG PERSHOUSE / GETTY IMAGES ©

Top Experiences

Jaisalmer’s Desert Mirage

A gigantic, golden sandcastle that rises like a mirage from the desert of Rajasthan, the ‘Land of Kings’, Jaisalmer's 12th-century citadel is romantically picturesque. This sandstone fort, with its crenellated ramparts and undulating towers, is a fantastical structure, elegantly blending in with the toffee-gold hues of its desert environs. Inside, a royal palace, atmospheric old havelis (traditional residences), delicately chiselled Jain temples and skinny lanes all conspire to create one of the country's best places to get lost.

Jaisalmer’s 12th-century citadel | DMITRY RUKHLENKO / GETTY IMAGES ©

Top Experiences

Cheeky Khajuraho

Care to see a nine-person orgy? Couples imaginatively intertwined? Hot nymphs? Khajuraho is the place! Some say the sensuous carvings on Khajuraho’s temples depict the Kama Sutra, or Tantric practices for initiates; others, that they’re educational models for children or allegories for the faithful. But pretty much everyone agrees that they’re delightfully mischievous. Once the initial titillation wanes, you’ll notice that the carving and architecture of these historic temples are remarkably skilled and multifariously mind stirring.

Khajuraho | WAJ / SHUTTERSTOCK ©

Top Experiences

Epic Rail Journeys

A long train journey across India, from sun-baked plains to lime-green rice paddies, is an epic experience. Domestic flights are increasingly popular, but as the estimated 25 million daily train passengers can attest, you can’t soak up India's dramatically diverse landscape and mingle with so many people on a plane. It's a chance to leisurely chit-chat over a hot cup of chai, or gaze out of the window at the passing land and people, listening to the click-clacking soundtrack of the rattling rails.

Nilgiri Mountain Railway | DZERKACH VIKTAR / SHUTTERSTOCK ©

Top Experiences

Delhi

India’s capital bears the mighty remnants of former empires, from great Mughal tombs to grandiose British-era mansions. There's so much to see here: the crumbling splendour of Old Delhi – with the Jama Masjid, Red Fort and its havelis (ornately decorated residences), the ancient forts of Tughlaqabad and Purana Qila, and the wonders of Qutb Minar and Mehrauli Archaeological Park. Add to this the city's many fine eateries, with offerings from street food to modern Indian, superb museums and amazing shopping, and it's easy to see why Delhi mesmerises many.

Jama Masjid | SAIKO3P / SHUTTERSTOCK ©

Top Experiences

Amritsar’s Golden Temple

The Golden Temple in Amritsar, is the Sikhs’ holiest of shrines, and has a magical atmosphere. Seeming to float atop a glistening pool named for the ‘nectar of immortality’, the temple is truly golden (the lotus-shaped dome is gilded in the real thing). Even when crowded with pilgrims it has a graceful tranquillity, with the sounds of kirtan (Sikh devotional singing) and birds chirping outside, and the mirror-like sacred pool that surrounds it.

Amritsar’s Golden Temple | SAIKO3P / SHUTTERSTOCK©

Top Experiences

French-Flavoured Puducherry

A place where you can gorge on yoga, pain au chocolat, Hindu gods and colonial-era architecture all at once is a tres bien proposition. In this former French colony, yellow houses line cobblestone streets, grand cathedrals are adorned with architectural frou-frou, and the croissants are the real deal. But Puducherry’s also a Tamil town – with all the history, temples and hustle and bustle that go along with that – and a classic retreat town, too, with the Sri Aurobindo Ashram at its heart.

Notre Dame des Anges | MARTCHAN / SHUTTERSTOCK ©

Top Experiences

Mighty Mehrangarh, Jodhpur

India has many inconceivably magnificent fortresses, but Jodhpur's Mehrangarh is among the finest, rearing up from its rocky outcrop. Like others, its huge doorways were built to accommodate elephants and its entryways designed to confuse invaders, but this is one of the most imposing settings of them all (though there's a lot of competition). India's forts typically tower above their surroundings like fantastical story-book visions, but Mehrangarh has the added glory of mesmerising views down to Jodhpur, Rajasthan's magical-looking blue city.

Mehrangarh | SAIKO3P / SHUTTERSTOCK ©

Need to Know

Currency

Indian rupees (₹)

Languages

Hindi, English

Visas

More than 100 nationalities can obtain a 30-day e-Tourist visa; this is valid from the day you arrive. For longer trips, you'll need to obtain a six-month tourist visa, valid from the date of issue, not the date of arrival in India.

Money

There are ATMs in most towns; carry cash as backup. Mastercard and Visa are the most widely accepted credit cards.

Mobile Phones

Roaming connections are excellent in urban areas, poor in the countryside and the Himalaya. Local prepaid SIMs are widely available; they involve some straightforward paperwork and sometimes a wait of up to 24 hours for activation.

Time

India Standard Time (GMT/UTC plus 5½ hours)

When to Go

High Season (Dec–Mar)

A Pleasant weather – warm days, cool nights. Peak tourists. Peak prices.

A December and January bring chilly nights in the north.

A Temperatures climb steadily from February.

Shoulder Season (Jul–Nov)

A Passes to Ladakh and the high Himalaya open from July to September.

A Monsoon rain-showers persist through to September.

A The southeast coast and southern Kerala see heavy rain from October to early December.

Low Season (Apr–Jun)

A April is hot; May and June are scorching. Competitive hotel prices.

A From June, the monsoon sweeps from south to north, bringing draining humidity.

A Beat the heat (but not the crowds) in the cool hills.

Useful Websites

Lonely Planet (www.lonelyplanet.com/india) Destination information, the Thorn Tree Travel Forum and more.

Incredible India (www.incredibleindia.org) Official India tourism site.

Templenet (www.templenet.com) Temple talk.

Rediff News (www.rediff.com/news) Portal for India-wide news.

World Newspapers (www.world-newspapers.com) Links to India’s English-language publications.

Important Numbers

%91), then the number (minus the initial ‘0’).

Exchange Rates

For current exchange rates see www.xe.com

Daily Costs

Budget: Less than ₹3000

A Dorm bed: ₹400–600

A Double room in a budget hotel: ₹400–700

A All-you-can-eat thalis (plate meals): ₹120–300

A Bus and train tickets: ₹300–500

Midrange: ₹4000–9000

A Double hotel room: ₹1500–5000

A Meals in midrange restaurants: ₹600–1500

A Admission to historic sights and museums: ₹500–1000

A Local taxis/autorickshaws: ₹500–2000

Top End: More than ₹9000

A Deluxe hotel room: ₹5000–22,000

A Meals at superior restaurants: ₹2000–5000

A First-class train travel: ₹1000–8000

A Renting a car and driver: ₹1800 upwards per day

Opening Hours

Opening hours are year-round for banks, offices and restaurants; many sights keep summer and winter opening hours.

Banks (nationalised) 10am–2pm/4pm Monday to Friday, to noon/1pm/4pm Saturday; closed second and fourth Saturday of month.

Restaurants 8am–10pm or lunch noon–3pm, dinner 7pm–10pm or 11pm

Bars & Clubs noon–12.30am

Shops 10am–7pm or 8pm, some closed Sunday

Markets 10am–7pm in major cities, usually with one closed day; rural markets may be once weekly, from early morning to lunchtime

Post Offices 9.30am–5pm Monday to Saturday

Arriving in India

Indira Gandhi International Airport Prepaid taxis cost from ₹450 to the centre, while radio cars are around ₹100 to ₹200 more; express buses every 20 minutes (₹100); airport express metro trains (₹60/100 Sunday/Monday to Saturday) link up with the metro system. If you're transferring from terminal 1 to 3 allow at least three hours; the shuttle bus can take an hour.

Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport Prepaid taxis cost ₹680/820 (non-AC/AC) to Colaba and Fort and ₹400/480 to Bandra. For the train (but not during 6am to 11am rush hour), take an autorickshaw (₹18/km) to Andheri train station and then the Churchgate or CST train (₹10, 45 minutes). From Colaba, an UberGo is around ₹385 off-peak.

Kempegowda International Airport Metered AC taxis to the centre cost ₹750 to ₹1000, including the airport toll of ₹120. Air-conditioned Vayu Vajra buses run very regularly to/from the airport to destinations around the city; fares start at ₹180.

Chennai International Airport Suburban trains to central Chennai run every 15 minutes (₹10) from 4.53am to 11.43pm from Tirusulam station at the airport. Prepaid taxis cost ₹450 to ₹600.

Getting Around

Transport in India is frequent and inexpensive, though not always fast. Consider domestic flights or sleeper trains as an alternative to long, uncomfortable bus rides.

Air Flights available to most major centres and state capitals; cheap flights with budget airlines.

Train Frequent services to most destinations; inexpensive tickets available, even on sleeper trains.

Bus Buses go everywhere; some destinations are served 24 hours but longer routes may have just one or two buses a day.

If You Like…

Cycling

Bengaluru & Karnataka Go for a peaceful roll around the ruins of Bidar Fort and nearby Bahmani tombs.

Odisha Bike around the beautiful scenery, with good roads and very little traffic in Odisha’s tribal country, around Koraput.

Padum Valley Mountain bikes are now available to rent through ZAP in Zanskar.

Buddhist stupa in Padum | ILONA SAPOZHNIKOVA / SHUTTERSTOCK ©

Forts & Palaces

India’s architecture tells a tale of conquest, domination and inordinate riches.

Rajasthan Nowhere matches the Land of Kings for romantic splendour, with Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Amber and lace-like Udaipur.

Maharashtra The land of Shivaji has defensive masterpieces including Daulatabad, and Janjira, an island fortress.

Hyderabad The rugged Golconda Fort complements the many ethereal palaces of the City of Pearls.

Delhi This historically strategic city has imperial forts like other places have traffic islands.

Ladakh Leh and Stok palaces are like mini versions of Tibet's fantastical Potala Palace.

Mysuru The majestic Mysuru Palace is the former residence of Mysuru’s maharajas.

Grand Temples

No one does temples like India – from psychedelic Technicolor Hindu towers to silently grand Buddhist cave temples and Amritsar’s gold-plated fairy-tale Sikh shrine.

Tamil Nadu A temple wonderland, with towering, fantastical structures that climb to the sky in busy rainbows of sculpted deities.

Golden Temple The queen of Sikh temples rises like a shining gem over a pool in Amritsar.

Rajasthan Jain temples at Jaisalmer, Ranakpur and Mt Abu offer some of India's most mind-blowingly intricate carvings.

Khajuraho Exquisite carvings of deities, spirits, musicians, regular people, mythological beasts – and sex. Lots of sex.

Tawang Gompa The world's second-largest Buddhist monastery, in Arunachal Pradesh, is set against snowy peaks.

South Sikkim Gigantic Buddhist and Hindu sculptures rise unforgettably above three forested foothill ridges at Namchi and Ravangla, backed by a horizon of white-topped Himalayan peaks.

Ajanta Ancient, vast, sculpted caves. Because monks like beautiful sculpture, too.

Delhi The almost-psychedelic structure of Akshardham versus the simplicity of the all-faith Bahai House of Worship.

Odisha The Sun Temple at Konark, with a vast, splendid stone chariot of the sun god Surya that features intricate erotic imagery.

Kailasa Temple, Ellora | ALEXANDER MAZURKEVICH / SHUTTERSTOCK ©

Ancient Ruins

You can wander back through time throughout India, with the legacy of countless cultures and empires scattered across cities and countryside: you don’t get to be a 5000-year-old civilisation without having lots of these around.

Hampi Rosy-hued temples and palaces of the mighty capital of Vijayanagar are scattered among otherworldly looking boulders and hilltops.

Mandu Many of the tombs, palaces, monuments and mosques on Mandu’s 20-sq-km green plateau are among India’s finest Afghan architecture.

Nalanda This Unesco-listed, 1600-year-old university once enrolled 10,000 monks and students. Its monasteries, temples and stupas are still elegant in ruins.

Delhi Conquered and built up repeatedly over the past 3000 years, Delhi is packed full of the monumental ruins of ancient powerhouses.

Fatehpur Sikri A ghostly abandoned Mughal city, close to Agra and the Taj Mahal.

Maharashtra Magnificent rock-cut Buddhist temple caves.

City Sophistication

India's cities are a world away from life in small towns or the countryside. With booming economies and millennia of sophistication under their belts, India’s cities have vibrant arts scenes, excellent restaurants and heaps of style.

Mumbai Home of Bollywood, Mumbai has it all: fashion, film stars, fine dining, glamorous bars and (along with Delhi) the country's best art galleries.

Delhi Urban sophisticate Delhi is famous for its cultural life, with regular festivals, plus exceptional shopping, museums, street food and swish restaurants.

Kolkata (Calcutta) Renowned for its poetry and poetics, Kolkata also has fabulous colonial-era architecture and a lively arts scene.

Bengaluru (Bangalore) This IT hub has a boozy nightlife with microbreweries, gastropubs and rock bars full of locals looking to party.

Chennai (Madras) Towering temples, elegant bars, swish hotels, fabulous shopping and a booming restaurant scene.

Bazaars

Indian megamalls are popping up like monsoon frogs, but the bazaar – with its spices and gold, garbage and flowers – is still where it’s at.

Old Delhi The Mughal-era bazaars feel like a direct link with the past, selling everything from gold to ball bearings, plus some of India's finest street food.

Goa Tourist flea markets are huge on the north coast, while Panaji (Panjim) and Margao bazaars make for excellent wandering.

Mumbai The megalopolis's old, characterful markets are firmly divided: Mangaldas (fabric), Zaveri (jewellery), Crawford (produce) and Chor (random antique bits).

Hyderabad The colourful, swarming streets around the Charminar sell bangles, birds, vegetables, wedding saris, antiques and much more.

Mysuru Devaraja Market is about 125 years old and filled with about 125 million flowers, fruits and vegetables.

Ahmedabad Manek Chowk proffers fresh-produce market by day and heaving night market by night, with copperware and textiles sold in the streets around it.

Beaches

India has some stunning stretches of paradisiacal coast, with tall palms and powdery white sand, while elsewhere the shoreline is more tinselled, with plenty of personality, people-watching and snack carts.

Kerala Varkala is backed by beautiful sea-cliffs and has a busy backpacker scene, Kovalam is a pretty resort with a golden bay, while more deserted Thottada is shaded by nodding palms.

Goa Even when overrun with travellers, the beaches are still lovely somehow. Mandrem and Palolem are two of the prettiest.

Havelock Island In the Andaman Islands, one of the world's most gorgeous beaches has clear, aquamarine water lapping against white powder.

Gokarna Originally for Goa overflow, Gokarna's beautiful beaches are part of a sacred ancient village.

Elephant walking along the beach on Havelock Island | TERESHCHENKO DMITRY / SHUTTERSTOCK ©

Boat Tours

India's waterways are a wonderful escape, and from canoes to steamships to houseboats, there are lots of ways to experience India's aquatic side.

Kerala Languorous drifting on the backwaters around Alappuzha (Alleppey), canoe tours from Kollam (Quilon) and bamboo-raft tours in Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary.

Goa Dolphin- and croc-spotting tours on the Mandovi River; cruise to a secluded beach by outrigger fishing boat.

Andaman Islands See mangroves, rainforest and reefs with 50 types of coral at Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park.

Uttar Pradesh Navigate UP’s chaotic holiness with dawn tours of Varanasi's ghats and sacred river cruises in Chitrakut, Mathura and Allahabad.

Assam Four- to 10-night steamboat cruises are offered along the mighty Brahmaputra River as it meanders through the Northeast.

Odisha Spot rare Irrawaddy dolphin as you tour Chilika Lake, Asia's largest brackish lagoon.

Traveller Enclaves

Sometimes you just want to find the like-minded, exchange stories and discuss strange bowel events. There are places for that.

Hampi The stunning beauty of Hampi’s landscape and architecture makes everyone want to stay for a while.

Goa Traveller magnet and beach haven, with Palolem and (cheaper) Arambol as its chief enclaves.

Rishikesh In the mountains, this is a major international traveller yoga centre, whether you're a devotee or a newbie.

Sudder St, Kolkata The accommodation on Kolkata's tourist lane is grungy but great for meeting fellow travellers.

McLeod Ganj Because who doesn't want to be near the Dalai Lama?

Pushkar Travellers, pilgrims, camels: everyone converges on this Rajasthan town for the Camel Fair, but pilgrims and travellers head to its picture-perfect lake year-round.

Delhi Love it or hate it, almost every India traveller passes through Delhi's Paharganj at some point, and the capital's hostels are the newest traveller hot spots.

Puducherry Ex-French, popular yoga-ashram hangout with a refreshing European feel, boho boutiques and chilled cafes.

Parvati Valley People hang out for weeks or months enjoying the laidback pleasures and ethereal beauty of this Himalayan valley.

Yoga, Ayurveda & Spiritual Pursuits

Bihar Bodhgaya is the place of Buddha's enlightenment, with temples from across the globe and Buddhist meditation courses.

Kerala The southern state is where ayurveda originated, and there's a herbal-oil-based treatment on almost every corner.

Rishikesh One of India's most popular places to salute the sun, with lessons for every level.

McLeod Ganj Home of the Dalai Lama and India's capital of Tibetan Buddhism, with a big meditation, yoga, philiosophy and holistic medicine scene.

Mysuru K Pattabhi Jois developed Ashtanga yoga here, and this is still a great centre for taking long or short courses, whatever your experience.

Puducherry A big yoga and ashram hangout, there are various schools, teacher training and a yoga festival.

Ladakh Many places do meditation courses or drop-ins and anyone can join in at a Buddhist monastery.

Arts & Crafts

Practically every town, village and neighbourhood here has its own tradition of devotional painting, silk weaving, camel-hide decorating, mirrored embroidering, or other art you won’t find anywhere else.

Gujarat Some of India’s finest textiles and embroidery are found in the tribal villages of Kachchh, where traditional craft has been practised for centuries.

Rajasthan India's textile traditions are legion. Villages in Rajasthan specialise in embroidery with tiny mirrors: like jewellery for your clothes.

Bihar Folk paintings known as Mithila (or Madhubani) colourfully depict village scenes; more readily available in Delhi than locally.

Tamil Nadu The Tamil tradition of sculpting bronze figures of Nataraja, the cosmic dancer, is about 1000 years old, and the silks and saris from Kanchipuram are renowned too.

Kashmir Famous for its handwoven carpets and jewel-bright papier mâché.

Month by Month

Top Events

Holi, February or March

Ganesh Chaturthi, August or September

Onam, August or September

Navratri & Dussehra, September or October

Diwali, October or November

January

Post-monsoon cool lingers throughout the country, with downright cold in the mountains. Pleasant weather and several festivals make it a popular time to travel (book ahead!), while Delhi hosts big Republic Day celebrations.

z Free India

Republic Day commemorates the founding of the Republic of India on 26 January 1950; the biggest celebrations are in Delhi, which holds a huge military parade along Rajpath, and the Beating of the Retreat ceremony three days later. There are pigeon races in Old Delhi.

3 Kite Festival

Sankranti, the Hindu festival marking the sun’s passage into Capricorn, takes place on either 14 or 15 January, and is celebrated in many ways across India – from banana-giving to cockfights. But it’s the mass kite-flying in Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra that's most spectacular.

z Southern Harvest

The Tamil festival of Pongal, equivalent to Sankranti, marks the end of the harvest season. Families prepare pots of pongal (a mixture of rice, sugar, dhal and milk), symbolic of prosperity and abundance, then feed them to decorated and adorned cows.

1 Pilgrimage, Size: Extra-Large

The huge Hindu pilgrimage, Kumbh Mela, takes place every three years, rotating between four different locations. All involve mass devotion – mass as in tens of millions of people. The next ritual group bathings are in Prayag (2019) and Haridwar (2021/22).

February

This is a good time to be in India, with balmy weather in most non-mountainous areas. It’s still peak travel season; sunbathing and skiing are still on.

1 Celebrating Saraswati

On Vasant Panchami, Hindus dress in yellow and place books, musical instruments and other educational objects in front of idols of Saraswati, the goddess of learning, to receive her blessing. The holiday sometimes falls in February.

z Tibetan New Year

Losar is celebrated by Tantric Buddhists all over India – particularly in Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Ladakh and Zanskar – for 15 days. Losar is usually in February or March, though dates can vary between regions.

2 Skiing the Northern Slopes

Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand have some fine skiing and snowboarding for all levels. Snow season tends to be January to March; February's a safe bet.

1 Shivaratri

This day of Hindu fasting recalls the tandava (cosmic victory dance) of Lord Shiva. Temple processions are followed by the chanting of mantras and anointing of linga (phallic images of Shiva). Shivaratri can also fall in March.

z Taj Mahotsav

This 10-day carnival of culture, cuisine and crafts is Agra's biggest and best party. Held at Shilpgram, the festival features more than 400 artisans from all over India, a potpourri of folk and classical music, and dances from various regions and enough regional food to induce a curry coma.

Snowboarding in Gulmarg, Kashmir | JULIAN LOVE / GETTY IMAGES ©

March

The last month of the travel season, March is full-on hot in most of the country, with rains starting in the northeast. Wildlife is easier to spot as animals come out to find water.

z Holi

One of North India’s most ecstatic festivals; Hindus celebrate the beginning of spring according to the lunar calendar, in February or March, by throwing coloured water and gulal (powder) at anyone within range. Bonfires the night before symbolise the demise of demoness Holika. (Upcoming dates: 2 March 2018, 21 March 2019, 10 March 2020.)

1 Wildlife-Watching

When the weather warms up, water sources dry out and animals venture into the open to find refreshment: your chance to spot elephants, deer and, if you’re lucky, tigers and leopards. Visit www.sanctuaryasia.com for detailed info.

z Rama's Birthday

During Rama Navami, which lasts anywhere from one to nine days, Hindus celebrate Rama's birth with processions, music, fasting and feasting, enactments of scenes from the Ramayana and, at some temples, ceremonial weddings of Rama and Sita idols. (Upcoming dates: 26 March 2018, 14 April 2019, 2 April 2020.)

z Mahavir's Birthday

Mahavir Jayanti commemorates the birth of Jainism’s 24th and most important tirthankar (teacher and enlightened being). Temples are decorated and visited, Mahavir statues are given ritual baths, processions are held and offerings are given to the poor. (Upcoming dates: 29 March 2018, 17 April 2019, 6 April 2020.)

April

The heat has officially arrived in most places, which means you can get deals and avoid tourist crowds. The Northeast, meanwhile, is wet, but it’s peak time for visiting Sikkim and upland West Bengal.

z Easter

The Christian holiday marking the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ is celebrated simply in Christian communities with prayer and good food. (Upcoming dates: 1 April 2018, 21 April 2019, 12 April 2020.)

May

It's hot almost everywhere. Really hot. Festivals take a back seat as humidity builds up, awaiting the release of the rain. Hill stations are hopping, though, and in the mountains it’s pre-monsoon trekking season.

z Buddha's Birthday

The celebration of Buddha’s birth, nirvana (enlightenment) and parinirvana (total liberation from the cycle of existence, or passing away), Buddha Jayanti is quiet but moving: devotees dress simply, eat vegetarian food, listen to dharma talks and visit monasteries or temples. (Upcoming dates: 22 May 2018, 12 May 2019, 30 April 2020.)

z Ramadan (Ramazan)

Thirty days of dawn-to-dusk fasting mark the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. Muslims traditionally turn their attention to God, with a focus on prayer and purification. Ramadan begins around 16 May 2018, 6 May 2019 and 24 April 2020.

2 Northern Trekking

May and June, the months preceding the rains in the northern mountains, are good times for trekking, with sunshine and temperate weather. Consider Himachal Pradesh, Kashmir (but not Ladakh) and Uttarakhand.

5 Mango Madness

Mangoes are indigenous to India, which is why they’re so ridiculously good here (seriously, it’s ridiculous). The season starts in March; in May the fruit is sweet, juicy and everywhere.

June

June is low, low season for travellers in India on account of the heat, but a good time to trek up north. The rainy season, or pre-monsoon extreme heat, has started just about everywhere else.

z Eid al-Fitr

Muslims celebrate the end of Ramadan with three days of festivities. Prayers, shopping, gift-giving and, for women and girls, mehndi (henna designs) may all be part of the celebrations. (Upcoming dates: 15 June 2018, 5 June 2019, 24 May 2020.)

Lunar Calendar

Many festivals follow the Indian lunar calendar (a complex system based on astrology) or the Islamic calendar (which falls about 11 days earlier each year), and therefore change annually relative to the Gregorian calendar. Contact local tourist offices for festival dates.

July

All going well, it should be raining almost everywhere now, with many remote roads being swept away. Consider visiting Ladakh, where the weather’s surprisingly fine, or do a rainy-season meditation retreat, an ancient Indian tradition.

z Odisha Festival of Chariots

Rath Yatra (Chariot Festival) sees effigies of Lord Jagannath (Vishnu incarnated as lord of the world) and his siblings carried through towns on vast, colourful chariots, most famously in Puri, Odisha (Orissa). Millions come to see them. (Upcoming dates: 14 July 2018, 4 July 2019, 23 June 2018.)

August

Monsoon should be still going strong, but this is prime time to visit Ladakh. Some travellers love tropical areas, such as Kerala or Goa, this time of year: the jungles are lush, green and glistening in the rain, and rainfall is sometimes only a few hours a day.

z Independence Day

This public holiday on 15 August celebrates India’s independence from Britain in 1947. Celebrations include flag-hoisting ceremonies and parades. The biggest celebrations are in Delhi, where the Prime Minister addresses the nation from the Red Fort and there's pigeon racing and kite flying in Old Delhi.

z Krishna's Birthday

Janmastami celebrations can last a week in Krishna’s birthplace, Mathura; elsewhere the festivities range from fasting to puja (prayers) and offering sweets, to drawing elaborate rangoli (rice-paste designs) outside the home. Janmastami is held August/September. (Upcoming dates: 15 August 2018, 3 September 2019, 23 August 2020.)

z Parsi New Year

Parsis celebrate Pateti, the Zoroastrian new year, especially in Mumbai. Houses are cleaned and decorated with flowers and rangoli, the family dresses up and eats special fish dishes and sweets, and offerings are made at the Fire Temple.

z Eid al-Adha

Muslims commemorate Ibrahim’s readiness to sacrifice his son to God by slaughtering a goat or sheep and sharing it with family, the community and the poor. (Upcoming dates: 22 August 2018, 12 August 2019, 31 July 2020.)

z Onam

In August or September, Onam is Kerala’s biggest cultural celebration, when the entire state celebrates the golden age of mythical King Mahabali for 10 days. (Upcoming dates: 24 August 2018, 10 September 2019, 30 August 2020.)

z Snake Festival

The Hindu festival Naag Panchami venerates snakes as totems against flooding and other evils. It's dedicated to Ananta, the serpent upon whose coils Vishnu rested between universes. Women return to their family homes and fast. (15 August 2018, 5 August 2019, 25 July 2020).

z Brothers & Sisters

On Raksha Bandhan (Narial Purnima), which means 'protective tie', girls tie amulets known as rakhis to the wrists of brothers and close male friends to protect them in the coming year. Brothers reciprocate with gifts and promises to take care of their sisters. (Upcoming dates: 26 August 2018, 15 August 2019, 3 August 2020.)

September

The rain is now petering out (with temperatures still relatively high), and the monsoon is usually finished in places such as Rajasthan. The second trekking season begins mid-month in the Himalaya and runs through October.

z Ganesh Chaturthi

Hindus celebrate the 10-day Ganesh Chaturthi, the celebration of the birth of the much-loved elephant-headed god, with verve, particularly in Mumbai, Hyderabad and Chennai. Clay idols of Ganesh are paraded through the streets before being ceremonially immersed in rivers, tanks (reservoirs) or the sea. (Upcoming dates: 13 September 2018, 2 September 2019, 22 August 2020.)

z Muharram

Shiite Muslims commemorate the martyrdom of the Prophet Mohammed’s grandson Imam Hussain, an event known as Ashura, with fasting, beautiful processions and a month of grieving and remembrance. Sunni Muslims also mark this, but with fasting and celebrations marking when Moses (Moosa) fasted because Allah saved the Israelites from their enemy in Egypt. (Upcoming dates: 21 September 2018, 10 September 2019, 29 August 2020.)

October

This is when the travel season starts to kick off in earnest. October, aka shoulder season, brings festivals, mostly good weather with reasonably comfy temperatures, and lots of post-rain greenery and lushness.

z Gandhi's Birthday

The national holiday of Gandhi Jayanti is a solemn celebration of Mohandas Gandhi’s birth, on 2 October, with prayer meetings at his cremation site in Delhi, Raj Ghat.

2 Let it Rain

Water bodies are full up after the rains, making for spectacularly thundering white-water falls. This is also the season for rafting in some areas; visit www.indiarafting.com.

z Durga Puja

The conquest of good over evil is exemplified by the goddess Durga’s victory over buffalo-headed demon Mahishasura. Celebrations occur around the time of Dussehra, particularly in Kolkata, where thousands of images of the goddess are displayed then ritually immersed in rivers and water tanks.

z Navratri

The exhuberant Hindu ‘Festival of Nine Nights’ leading up to Dussehra celebrates the goddess Durga in all her incarnations. Festivities, in September or October, are particularly vibrant in West Bengal, Maharashtra and Gujarat; in Kolkata, Durga images are ritually immersed in rivers and tanks. (Upcoming dates: 9 October 2018, 29 September 2019, 17 October 2020.)

z Dussehra

Colourful Dussehra celebrates the victory of the Hindu god Rama over the demon-king Ravana and the triumph of good over evil. Dussehra is big in Kullu, where more than 200 village deities are carried into the town on palanquins and festivities go on for a week. (Upcoming dates: 19 October 2018, 8 October 2019, 25 October 2020.)

1 Pushkar Camel Fair

Held during Kartika (the eighth Lunar month, usually October or November), this fair attracts around 200,000 people, bringing some 50,000 camels, horses and cattle. It's a swirl of colour, magic and mayhem, thronged with musicians, mystics, tourists, camera crews, traders, devotees and animals.

November

The climate is blissful in most places, still hot but not uncomfortably so, but the southern monsoon is sweeping Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

z Diwali

In the lunar month of Kartika, Hindus celebrate Diwali for five days. There's massive build up to this, and on the day people exchange gifts, light fireworks, and light lamps to lead Lord Rama home from exile. One of India’s prettiest and noisiest festivals. (Upcoming dates: 7 November 2018, 27 October 2019, 14 November 2020.)

z Guru Nanak's Birthday

Nanak Jayanti, birthday of Guru Nanak, founder of Sikhism, is celebrated with prayer, kirtan (devotional singing) and processions for three days, especially in Punjab and Haryana. The festival may also be held on 14 April, possibly Nanak’s actual 1469 birth date.

December

December is peak tourist season for a reason: it's an escape from the cold elsewhere, you're guaranteed glorious weather (except for the chilly mountains), the humidity’s low, the mood is festive and the beach rocks.

z The Prophet Mohammed's Birthday

The Islamic festival of Eid-Milad-un-Nabi celebrates the birth of the Prophet Mohammed with prayers and processions, especially in Jammu and Kashmir. It falls around 1 December 2017, 21 November 2018, and 10 November 2019.

1 Birding

Many of India’s 1250-plus bird species perform their winter migration from November to January or February, and excellent birdwatching spots are peppered across the country; www.birding.in is an excellent resource.

2 Camel Treks in Rajasthan

The cool winter (November to February) is the time to mount a camel and ride through the Rajasthani desert. Setting out from Jaialmer or Bikaner, you can explore the Thar Desert and sleep under a shedload of stars.

z Christmas

Christian Goa comes alive in the lead-up to Christmas, midnight Masses are held on 24 December, and Christmas Day is celebrated with feasting and fireworks.

Itineraries

Golden Triangle & the Land of the Kings

2 Weeks

This might be a well-worn trail, but there's a reason for that. The Golden Triangle of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur combines some of India's most jaw-dropping sights, and the princely splendours of Rajasthan make for a natural extension to the trip.

Kick off in Delhi, visiting the tumult of Old Delhi with its Mughal-era Red Fort and Jama Masjid, and taking it easy wandering Lodi Gardens, and Humayun's Tomb. Next, catch a train to Agra and see how beautiful the Taj Mahal, the world’s most extravagant monument to love, really is. Explore Agra Fort and devote a day to nearby Fatehpur Sikri, a ghostly Mughal city. Continue on to the Pink City Jaipur, and devote several days to its whirlwind of bazaars, the City Palace, Hawa Mahal, and the Amber Fort.

Loop back to Delhi, or travel on to Pushkar for a few days of chilling out around lakeside temples, then take time to stay lakeside, go boating and explore elegant Udaipur. Next visit magnificent hilltop Kumbhalgarh and the temple at Ranakpur, en route to Jodhpur. See the Blue City unfurled beneath you from the mighty battlements of Mehrangarh Fort. Finish off in fortified Jaisalmer and go all Lawrence of Arabia on camelback through the dunes, sleeping under a firmament of stars. Finally, loop back to Delhi, with one last cycle ride through Old Delhi, an early morning trip to the ruins of Qutb Minar, or shopping in its amazing emporiums, markets and boutiques.

Itineraries

Six Months North & South

6 Months

Tourist visas last six months, allowing you explore some of the highlights of the north and south, as well as going off the track.

Kick off by exploring Delhi before riding the rails north to Amritsar, to see Sikhism's most holy site, the glittering Golden Temple. Connect through Chandigarh to the laid-back vibes of Shimla. From this classic hill station you can roam northwest to Buddhist Dharamsala, home of the Dalai Lama, or Manali, starting point for the beautiful, thrilling but gruelling overland journey to rugged Ladakh (July to September), gateway to the high Himalaya. When you've had your fill of mountain air, head south for some yoga in Rishikesh, and descend to Agra, to see the vision-like Taj Mahal. Next go south Khajuraho, with its risque temples, and scan the jungle for tigers in Bandhavgarh National Park. Continue to the holy city of Varanasi for a boat trip along the sacred Ganges.

You can meander on detours as you train it eastwards to Kolkata (Calcutta), bustling capital of West Bengal. Swing north as far as Darjeeling or Sikkim for sweeping Himalayan views, then drift down the coast to the temple towns of Konark and Puri in Odisha (Orissa). Consider a flight to transport you south and through the Looking Glass to Chennai (Madras) for a different kind of India.

From here you have a chance to visit the wonders of Mamallapuram (Mahabalipuram), for temple carvings; Puducherry (Pondicherry), for colonial-era heritage combined with contemporary charm; and Madurai, for deity-encrusted temple towers. At this point, you've more than earned a long stay at Kerala's beaches, before taking a trip inland to nostalgic Mysuru to see how maharajas lived.

Continuing north, head to Hampi, where temples and ruined cities are strewn among the boulders, then get a second dose of beach life on the coast of Goa. Wine, dine and go Bollywood-crazy in Mumbai (Bombay), fast-paced capital of the west coast; then admire the glory of the cave paintings and carvings at Ajanta and Ellora.

Finish on a high in Rajasthan with its the coloured-city triple – pink Jaipur, blue Jodhpur and white Udaipur. There might just be time to detour to the fascinating temples, exquisite embroidery villages and nature reserves of Gujarat, before closing the circle with a last train ride to Delhi.

Itineraries

Mountains & Tribal Culture

1 Month

Sikkim and the Northeast States, with their incredible mountain scenery, are still a well-kept secret for many travellers. Insurgencies and permit restrictions have long put off visitors, but India's last frontier is slowly opening up to the outside world. From Kolkata, you can go north to Darjeeling, see astounding Himalayan vistas in Sikkim then visit the world of India's hill tribes. Advance planning is essential – permits are mandatory and there are security risks to consider.

Starting in Kolkata, make your first stop genteel Darjeeling – here you can sample India's finest teas and pick up a permit for Sikkim, one of India's most serene quarters. Gangtok, the Sikkimese capital, is the starting point for jeep rides to historic Buddhist temples set amid dramatic scenery. Veer to Namchi to see the giant statues of Shiva and Padmasambhava, and to Pelling for inspiring views of the white-peaked Khangchendzonga and the beautiful Pemayangtse Gompa, ringed by gardens and monks’ cottages. Take the weeklong trek from Yuksom to Goecha La, a 4940m pass with incredible views, then exit Sikkim via Tashiding, with more wonderful views and another stunning gompa, before travelling to Siliguri for the journey east.

Arrange tours for the Northeast States (including permits for Arunachal Pradesh) in Guwahati or online. Then head from Guwahati to Arunachal Pradesh to pay your respects at the stunning Buddhist monastery at Tawang, before exploring the tribal villages around Ziro, where the elders have dramatic facial tattoos and piercings. A visit to Nagaland opens up fascinating tribal villages around Mon – featuring a rugged countryside dotted by traditional longhouses and remote settlements – and the capital Kohima, with its WWII relics. Going south, there’s a fair chance of encountering Meitei culture in Manipur and Mizo culture in Mizoram, before you fly back to Kolkata.

Alternately, you could also try this classic loop (Arunachal permits not required): from Guwahati, head to Kaziranga National Park to spot rare rhinos. Detour to sleepy Shillong, and hike to the waterfalls and incredible living root bridges of Cherrapunjee. Drive on to Agartala, the capital of Tripura, before returning to Kolkata by air or overland through Bangladesh.

Itineraries

The Spiritual Centre

3 Weeks

There is a wealth of fantastical temples all over India, but this temple-hopping trip around the central plains will take in some of the most fabulous.

Start amid the chaos and rich cultural life of Kolkata, then swap the big-city bustle for the peace and legendary spirituality of Bodhgaya, where the Buddha attained enlightenment. Roll across the plains to Sarnath, where the Buddha first taught the dharma.

Move onto one of Hinduism's most sacred spots, the city of Varanasi. See the rituals on the banks of the River Ganges, then ramble to the Hindu temples of Khajuraho, which seethe with erotic carvings. Head southwest to Sanchi, where Emperor Ashoka first embraced Buddhism, then zip through Bhopal to Jalgaon, jumping-off point for the carving-filled caves of Ajanta.

Next, detour into Rajasthan; stop off in whimsical Udaipur, with its lakes and palaces, then explore the Jain temples of Ranakpur or Mt Abu, with incredible virtuoso carving in milk-white marble. Continue to Pushkar, curled around its sacred lake, then make a trip to nearby Ajmer, one of India’s key Islamic pilgrimage sites. Take a final stop in atmospheric Jaipur, then end the trip in Delhi, with its magnificent Islamic ruins, and hear mesmerising devotional songs at the holy sufi shrine of Hazrat Nizamuddin.

Itineraries

Himalayan Adventures

4 Weeks

The soul-feeding Himalayan views you'll see on this mountainous loop will stay with you forever.

Start by riding the rails from Delhi to Kalka, to board the cute-as-a-button narrow-gauge train to colonial-era Shimla. From here you can start your mountain exploration gently with some rambles around the hills, then join the traveller pilgrimage north to the Kullu Valley, stepping up a gear with some adventurous mountain activities.

From the hill resort of Manali, embark on the thrilling, winding, two-day journey to Leh in Ladakh (July to September), to hike to dramatic Buddhist monasteries and trekking peaks. For a short loop, continue from Leh to Kargil and on to Kashmir (checking first that it's safe to travel). Stay on a Srinagar houseboat, then loop through Jammu to elegant Dalhousie, and soak up Buddhist culture in nearby Dharamsala, before returning to Delhi.

With more time to spare, head southeast from Leh into the dramatic Spiti Valley, where ancient monasteries blend into the arid landscape. Ride the rattletrap bus to rugged Kinnaur, with its plunging landscapes, and make stops in Dehra Dun and Rishikesh to soak up some Hindu culture, before finishing in Delhi.

Itineraries

Southern Beaches

2 Weeks

This is a laid-back meander to relax on some of India’s finest beaches and chill out in charismatic coastal towns.

Start in Mumbai and people-watch, amble and sample bhelpuri (crisp noodle salad) at Girgaum Chowpatty beach. Take a boat trip to the rock-cut temples on Elephanta Island, then travel south by train to beach-blessed Goa.

Take your pick from tropical sandy stretches of Arambol, Vagator and Palolem, then continue along the coast to the sacred town of Gokarna. Now for a change of pace; head inland to Hampi, with its serene Vijayanagar ruins, and witness the zenith of medieval stone carving in the Hoysala temples of Belur and Halebid. Return by train to Mangalore to dine on spectacular seafood, then chug south to the lovely, laid-back town of Kochi (Cochin), a melting-pot mix of influences from as far afield as China and the Middle East, with its signature Chinese fishing nets along the seafront.

Cruise Kerala’s languorous backwaters from Alappuzha (Alleppey), before dipping your toes in the warm waters around beach resorts Varkala or Kovalam. Make your last stop Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum), home to fascinating, often-overlooked museums, before closing the loop with a flight back to Mumbai.

Itineraries

A Southern Loop

3 Weeks

Chennai, the happening capital of the south, is the easiest starting point for exploring India’s southern tip. Ideal timing weatherwise is from October to February, when the weather is balmy and neither too